What now?

Published in 20th-century / Contemporary History, Devalera & Fianna Fail, Editorial, Issue 2(March/April 2011), Volume 19

By the time you read this we will have a new government, with Enda Kenny as taoiseach (Enda is taoiseach, isn’t he?). We may even have a single-party Fine Gael government, with or without the support of independents (and there are surely plenty of those in the new Dáil to choose from). In that scenario Labour is the main opposition party, with Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin scrapping it out for fourth place. This is being described as ‘an electoral earthquake’, but in fact we’ve been here before: it’s almost exactly the political alignment of the 1920s, with a single-party Cumann na nGaedheal government (still the biggest genetic component of Fine Gael) supported by independents, with Labour as the ‘loyal’ opposition, and with an abstentionist Sinn Féin being supplanted by an only ‘slightly constitutional’ Fianna Fáil. Or we could have the more familiar Fine Gael/Labour coalition—even less change there. A common theme during the election campaign, from all parties (even Fianna Fáil, in government for the last fourteen years!), was the need for ‘political reform’. There is a growing awareness of the necessity to overhaul our political and administrative systems to avoid the mistakes of the past. There is a proposal to abolish the Senate, and while its present function as a lay-by for aspirant or failed TDs must be ended, how can its abolition help when the need is for more rather than less oversight? Our current voting system is being blamed for ‘clientelist politics’, but how can the adoption of a ‘list’ system (or some variation thereof), which will favour political élites, tackle the current disconnect between the political system and the ordinary citizen? There’s been little or no mention of the necessity to reform and properly fund local government (see Matthew Potter’s ‘The rise and fall of local democracy’, pp 40–3). How can we stop TDs acting like county councillors when we don’t have real county councillors with clearly defined functions? By now readers will also have received their January and February pay cheques, and the brutal reality of what €6 billion in cutbacks means for the individual will have struck home—and there are three more ‘hairshirt’ budgets of cuts of €3 billion apiece still to come! There was much talk during the election campaign of ‘renegotiating’ the IMF/ECB deal, ‘burning bond-holders’, etc., but the latter is a diminishing option, as bond-holders progressively cash in their (guaranteed) chips, and since the previous government accepted the IMF/ECB deal on our behalf that particular horse has bolted too. ‘Growing the economy’, we are told, is the only solution, but how will this be possible with consumer spending in free fall, and likely to tumble further with higher interest rates owing to a resurgent German economy? We may not be a Third World country, as Kevin Whelan rightly asserts (Platform, pp 10–11), but we have serious problems that must be addressed. Tommy Graham 6 Palmerston Place, Dublin 7 editor@historyireland.com

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